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Christmas in New York (2012)

13 Nov

Saks Fifth Avenue, NYC – photo by NYC Insider Guide

I won’t be in NYC for Christmas this year, but professional changes are afoot and I’m closer to NYC than I’ve been since I started writing this blog – next year may just be the year!

Meanwhile, it’s time to pull together the yearly list of NYC Christmas happenings!

1. Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting – Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It’s the 80th tree to be lit in Rockefeller Square, and this year the tree will be lit with more than 300,000 energy efficient LED lights making the celebration both traditional and forward thinking!

2. Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The Rockettes kick off the Christmas season is high style!!

3. Department Store Holiday Window Displays 

Bergdorf Goodman holiday window – photo by Ricky Zehavi for Bergdorf Goodman

Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor  unveiled their windows on Tuesday, November 13.  Barney’s showed off their “Electric Holiday” video and talked with Sean James, Christie’s Vice President of Managed Services, about how they made the magic happen.  Macy’s and Henri Bendel revealed their windows on Thursday, November 15.  The grand prize goes to Bergdorf Goodman’s beautiful holiday windows inspired by the Great Gatsby and the “roaring 20s” era.

4. Holiday Markets, Shops and Fairs

As usual, there are a large number of wonderful places to buy unique holiday gifts in New York City!  Most of the markets and shops open up around November 14, and stay open until the end of December.

5. New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show

Within the enchanting setting of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, model trains zip over bridges and past replicas of New York landmarks made of plant parts such as nuts, bark, and leaves. Show favorites include the original Yankee Stadium, Statue of Liberty, and Brooklyn Bridge.

This year visitors will get an insider’s look at how the replicas are constructed. Models in different stages of completion will show how a structure destined for the Holiday Train Show is framed and begins taking shape through the addition of plant material. Photos, interpretive panels, tools, and supplies help tell the story of how the magic comes together.

6. Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square

On Monday, November 26, 2012 the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District and presenting sponsor Time Warner will host the Thirteenth Annual Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square – New York City’s largest holiday festival! Winter’s Eve kicks off with a neighborhood tree lighting ceremony with world renowned singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega, cast members of Avenue Q, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, WABC-TV’s Sade Baderinwa, and special guest Laurie Berkner from 5:00pm – 6:00pm. Winter’s Eve continues through the evening and features free entertainmentfood tastingsin-store activities and shopping around and about this colorful and vibrant neighborhood.

7. Macy’s 86th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade

The parade that needs no explanation!

8. New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop Gala

Towering 22 and 23 stories above the million or so partiers on 7th Avenue and Broadway below, the Sentry Center offers a commanding view of the incredible festivities in Times Square and the famous Times Square Waterford Crystal ball itself. You can watch the crowds as they gather in the streets outside while you enjoy an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and desserts, DJ dance music and of course, the view to end all views! At midnight the ball drop,fireworks and confetti will create the perfect backdrop scenery for welcoming in the New Year in Times Square.

I won’t be able to join in the festivities this year, but I remain optimistic that 2013 will be the year I celebrate Christmas in New York!

Happy Holidays to all!

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Christmas in New York (2011)

19 Nov

Photo by My Kind of Town.com

It’s time for Christmas in New York – again!

There are a lot of folks searching for information about Christmas in New York, so I thought I’d give a run down of what’s happening this year.  Last year, I wrote a Wish List of things I’d like to see, so this year I’ll continue the tradition and add some of the things that I didn’t include and a few new events!

Christmas List 2011

1. New York City Christmas Lights Tour.

This is a 3-6 hour fully customizable tour of the city’s Christmas lights.  The tour will be tailored to your group’s interests, knowledge of the city, native language, and even to where you want to be picked up at the start of the tour!

2. New York City Ballet The Nutcracker

“With Tschaikovsky’s incomparable score, hundreds of dazzling costumes, a one-ton tree that magically grows and grows, and a million watts of illuminated excitement, this traditional Christmas ballet is the definitive holiday must-see!” Tickets are $55-135, depending on performance and seats, and performances run November 25 – December 31, 2011.

3. Macy’s Holiday Window Display

This year Macy’s theme is “Make a Wish,” and features ornaments made by celebrities (on sale inside the store for $9.99 each with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Make a Wish Foundation). This year’s windows (designed by Paul Olszewski) will introduce the use of 3-D screens that do not require glasses in order for guests to view the images. The giant screen in Window 6 will allow visitors to make their own digital ornament and send it to their smart phone to be used as holiday wallpaper.

4. National Chorale Messiah Sing-in

With 17 conductors, 4 soloists, and an audience chorus of over 3,000, how can you go wrong with the Messiah sing-in?  You can’t.  December 20, 7:30 pm at Lincoln Center.

5. Brew York, New York

This really isn’t a “Christmas event,” but for those folks who love good beer, Chris O’Leary (a professed “beer geek” who lives in Brooklyn) provides a calendar of brew related events in the New York area.  His calendars are works of brew art, and run all year-round!

6. The Big Apple Circus

Ironically, this year’s Big Apple Circus show is called “Dream Big”! Flying through the air with the greatest of ease these acrobats, jugglers, and performers entertain audiences with their skill and talent for doing what most would consider impossible.  Designed to delight and entertain children of all ages, this show runs until January 2012.

7. 28th Annual Tree Lighting – South Street Seaport

On Friday, November 25th, TODAY Show personality and fashion expert Jill Martin will host one of New York City’s most beloved holiday traditions, with a 40-foot tree serving as the centerpiece of a seven-minute “Sparkle at the Seaport” light show spectacular. Festivities will kick-off with performances by the Darren Wallis Jazz Trio and the Soul Tigers Marching Band. All-male barbershop chorus, The Big Apple Chorus, will perform seasonal favorites, and costumed characters will help Santa Claus countdown to the tree lighting ceremony. To round-off the evening, Ronnie Spector will give a special performance, making it a night to remember for the whole family.

8. Twelfth Annual Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square

Monday, November 28 at 5:30 pm (no matter what the weather!) stores, restaurants, cultural organizations and public spaces in the district will be buzzing with activities for both children and adults. At the same time, sidewalks along Broadway from Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle to 68th Street will be alive with performers, street musicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and more, making for a festive fun-filled stroll through the streets of this dynamic Upper West Side neighborhood.

9. Union Square Holiday Market

Between November 18 through December 24, Union Square will play host to a holiday market with over 100 local vendors!  Hours: Monday – Friday, 11:00am to 8:00pm; Saturday, 10:00am to 8:00pm; Sunday, 11:00am to 7:00pm.

10. American Museum of Natural History’s Origami Holiday Tree

From November 19, 2011 to January 2, 2012 the American Museum of Natural History  displays the annual origami holiday tree.  This year’s tree decorations pay tribute to some of the largest and most impressive animals and inanimate objects found in the Museum halls through the art of origami.

I can’t be in New York City this Christmas, but my thoughts will be filled with all of the wonderful things to look forward to doing when my dreams come true!

Happy Holidays!

Only in New York

20 Aug

Manhattan Skyline - photo by MAG

This blog celebrated its one-year anniversary last week, and I had hoped to mark the occasion by finishing up the entries about my trip, but that didn’t happen. So, today I am going to highlight some of the best moments of my trip.

I loved all of the unexpected adventures I had in New York – most were the result of getting lost because I didn’t follow directions, but then that’s the best way to experience things – organically.

St. Anthony of Padua - photo by MAG

Some of the best finds were the day I walked from SoHo to 27th & 5th and got lost not once, but twice!  That was the day I walked past The Shrine Church of St. Anthony of Padua on the corner of Houston and Sullivan and heard the most beautiful music floating out of the doors, into the street.  I wandered in and found the organist practicing for mass while the partitioners sat in the pews praying and chatting with one another.  There was something comforting about looking around and seeing generations of people gathered in a place that contains so much history; so many memories.

Not long after I left the church and ventured forth, I discovered the man cave of all man caves – Little Lebowski.  The funniest part of the whole adventure was that at the moment I was discovering it, D. texted me and asked where I was.  “I’m at 215 Thompson Street, do you know it?” I quickly replied.  “No, what is it?” he texted back. “Dude, it’s the Little Lebowski Shop!”  D. laughed and then asked if they give discounts for those of us who have been ordained as priests in the Church of Dudeism [both D. and I became Revs a couple of years ago, and we even have certificates to prove it].  I told him I’d go in and ask – so I did.

215 Thompson St. - photo by MAG

Roy, dressed in a bowling shirt and shoes, told me that he’d give me a 10% discount for being ordained as his eyes followed another customer out the door.  “But that guy,” he said disgustedly, “that guy doesn’t get shit!”  I gave him a puzzled look, and he explained, “He asked me for a discount, I told him no, and then he picked up a shirt and said he’d pay me $20.00 for it.  I told him the price was $25.00.  Damn tourists, they ruin the city this time of year, don’t you think?”  I bit my tongue and nodded slightly as I turned to survey the store.  Roy continued his hilarious running commentary by telling me about the history of the store, the movie and then offering suggestions about which t-shirt I should buy [I ended up with the one that has a picture of Walter, and the words “You are about to enter a world of pain”].  He gave me the discount and told me he’d give D. one, too, if he stopped by.

My next stop was the Museum of Sex on 5th Ave and 27th Street.  Talk about an interesting place!  The whole museum is full of..well…sex.  But it’s not just porn, there are floors dedicated to comics, magazines, sexual products, sexual history, and the entire top floor was dedicated to documenting the work of burlesque performers.  That was interesting because they don’t generally sit for still photos since their profession is about live performance, but this group of performers had collaborated with photographers to create still images that reflected the personalities of each individual performer.  Some of the photos were breathtakingly beautiful, and some were downright shocking, but all of them were uniquely informative.

Around the time I finished touring the museum, D. texted to say he might be able to break away from work and grab a cup of coffee.  When I told him I’d start heading back toward SoHo, he responded by telling me not to head back now since he wouldn’t be free for at least an hour – maybe two.  I texted back, “Well, I’ll be walking, and you know how I am about directions and focus!  Just text me and let me know if I need to hop the subway, okay?”  D’s next text earnestly asked, “Wow, are you afraid of the subway or do you just like walking that much?”  I laughed and replied, “A little of both, but mostly I love the freedom of being able to walk everywhere!”

I made it back to SoHo around 7:30, and at that point, D. was able to take time for a dinner break, so we headed over to Mexican Radio where we had some excellent fish tacos and I got to try D’s Negro Modelo – two thumbs up!  After dinner, D. headed back to work and I walked from SoHo back to Jane Street.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - photo by MAG

I spent the next day wandering around the Upper East Side, and visiting the Metropolitan Museum.  I wasn’t up for the Alexander McQueen exhibit – mainly because I didn’t feel like waiting for hours in a line just to get rushed through the displays of his iconic designs.

One of my favorite exhibits at the museum was the exhibit of night photography.  My favorite was Alvin Langdon Coburn’s “Broadway at Night” [c. 1911].  Under the photo was a quote from Coburn that read, “It is only at twilight that the city reveals itself to me in the fulness of its beauty, when the arc lights on the Avenue click into being…”  Bernice Abbott’s photo “Nightview New York” [c. 1932] was also strikingly beautiful.

That evening I met D. for coffee and so we could say adieu since the next evening I had a ticket to tour the Manhattan bay by boat [thanks to D.’s eagle Groupon eye!] and wouldn’t be able to make it back to SoHo again.  When I ordered a decaf coffee, the baristo behind the counter told me they were out of decaf because they were about to close, but would I be willing to accept a decaf Cafe Americano? [or something like that, I think].  I asked him if it was the same, and he assured me that every cup of coffee was freshly made, then lowering his voice to a conspiratorial level, he confided, “Everything is made with love here. Well, except the green tea – that’s positively malevolent.”

D. and I laughed pretty hard as the baristo went to get our drinks.  It was kind of fitting that the coffee shop closed just as we were saying goodbye – no tears, no long drawn out promises to “see you soon,” just a quick hug and a smile, and then D. headed back to work and I headed off – in the wrong direction.   Fortunately, the wrong direction meant I came across Rice to Riches, and was able to pick up some mango rice pudding to take back to the hotel for a late-night snack.  And since J. loves the little portable plastic dishes the rice pudding comes in, I killed two birds with one stone!

My two favorite moments in New York came the next day when native New Yorkers proved their mettle.

The first moment occurred while I was walking up 7th Ave toward the fashion district.  As I approached a corner in Chelsea, I found myself walking behind a little old man wearing a grey windbreaker and a Yankees ball cap.  The old guy was kind of bent over, his eyes on the ground in front of him, and although he was shuffling, it was with purpose.  As we approached the other side of the street, I could see a Chelsea mom [you know the type, white polo shirt – collar up – jean skirt, Top Siders] and her two kids on the opposite corner.  The younger kid was blocking the old guy’s way, but the kid didn’t move and the old guy kept shuffling forward undeterred by the kid’s presence.  At the last moment, Chelsea mom grabbed the kid and pulled him out of the way, and the old guy shuffled by without even looking up.  Chelsea mom got huffy, turned toward the old guy and said rather loudly, “Well, you could have said excuse me!” And in true New Yorker form, the old guy turned his head slightly and shot back, “Fuck you!”

He didn’t miss a step.

The Harbor Tour boat - photo by MAG

The second moment occurred on the boat tour later that evening.  I was texting D. photos of the scenery we were passing, when D. texted back, “I must tell you, these are some pretty boring pictures you’re sending me.  The NYPD impound lot?  Brooklyn? Where’s the Manhattan skyline?”  I texted back that this was the Hidden Harbor Tour sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee.

Just as D. was lamenting the fact that he’d sent me on a tour of harbors rather than Manhattan, the tour guide started answering questions from the tourists sitting up on top of the boat.  The first question was whether or not terrorists could enter the U.S. via shipping containers.  The tour guide responded very seriously, “Well, if they do, they’re dead before the containers are opened.  Next question?”  I bit my tongue in order to hold back the laughter as I texted D. back and told him that not only was I enjoying the boat ride, but also that the answer to that question was worth the price of the entire trip.  D. responded, “Well, as long as you’re having fun…”  to which I replied, “Seriously dude, I’m going to have fun no matter where I am!”

Il Porto on Fulton Street - photo by MAG

After the boat tour, I stopped at Il Porto on Fulton Street and had a delicious salmon dinner while simultaneously looking at lower Manhattan and watching a soccer match on the bar television.  Heaven, indeed.  After dinner, I walked up Fulton to Nassau Street and caught the subway back to 14th Street. I walked now familiar route to my hotel where I packed my bags and prepared to depart early the next morning.

As the airport shuttle drove through the streets the next morning, I got a little teary.  I didn’t want to leave New York.  What I really wanted to do was go back to Michigan, pack up my things and just move, but common sense told me that was not a rational or reasonable choice, so I dried my tears and toughened up for the trip home. As I was checking my suitcase, the airline porter, a very kind fatherly man, asked me, “Why do those beautiful eyes look so sad?”  I was startled that he’d noticed, and the tears began to well up before I could stop them.

What could I say to that?  I wanted to let it flow and tell him how much I loved New York and how badly I was already aching to return, but that’s not something you say to strangers, so I took a deep breath and said, “I’m heading back to Detroit.”  He nodded knowingly as he handed me my boarding pass, and told me not to put my scarf in my suitcase because it would be cold on the plane.

I love New Yorkers.

It’s taken me a long time to blog about my trip to New York.  I’ve been back in Michigan for two months now, and while life has been busy, I think I know why I’ve been reluctant to wrap this up.

It means things are going to change – again – but I don’t know how.

New York feels a long way away, and some days I am so homesick for it that it hurts, and other days I can set it aside and do things that I love so I don’t have to think about missing the city.

This weekend J. is in New York, and she’s been acting as my “supplier” as she wanders the city seeking out all of the restaurants she’s read about in Gourmet and/or Bon Appetite. When I saw the first photo she sent, I knew I was a goner.  It was a simple shot of a city corner, and my pulse quickened, my heart raced as I looked closely at the scene.

I love New York in a way that is not reasonable or rational, and no matter how long it takes or how many different avenues I have to take in order to get there – I am going to get there.

At the Strand Bookstore - photo by MAG

New York City will be my home.

New York City Rhythm

5 Aug

Corner Park - Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

One of the many things I loved about New York was that, contrary to popular belief, the city has a good deal of green space.  Neighborhoods have carved out small oasises where residents [and travelers] can sit and enjoy a little peace and quiet – relatively speaking.

When I awoke on Sunday morning, I realized that all of my best laid plans [see my pre-travel blog entries] were going to go astray since I’d overslept and missed out on my chance to attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was at that moment that I decided to chuck the itinerary, and just “follow my bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say.

I am so incredibly thankful I did.

Once I got ready and packed what I’d need for the day in my messenger bag, I headed out on foot to explore the West Village.  I needed caffiene and food, in that order, but I had no idea what was available, so I consulted my handy Urbanspoon app and found that there were no fewer than eight Starbucks stores within walking distance.  Once I had a cup of hot dark coffee in hand, I began narrowing my options for brunch.

Breakfast at The PATH Cafe - Photo by MAG

I finally settled on The PATH Cafe on Christopher Street.  When I arrived, around 10:30 am, the place was nearly empty.  I ordered and read the paper while I waited for breakfast to be delivered.  There was something decadent about sitting at the counter enjoying a lesiurely Sunday morning, and I decided that whether in New York or not, this needed to be incorporated into my weekly routine.

While  eating, I took a closer look at the artwork on the walls of the cafe, and noticed that the photograph to my left was not, in fact, a painting, but rather a photo of a painting on a garage door.  I asked the server about it and she informed me that the artist was Chris Sullivan,  an architectural photographer, and invited me to return to the cafe for her talk on photography later that week.  I made a note of it, and told her that if I was in the area, I would definitely drop by.

After breakfast, I wandered aimlessly up Christopher Street observing the scenery and checking out various second hand stores.  In one, I found a long-sleeved sheer black Banana Republic shirt.  I ended up paying $7.00 [plus the 8% New York city/state tax] for a shirt that had probably been originally priced at more than $30.00.  This confirmed, once and for all, that, thanks to my mother, finding deals is in my DNA.

I followed Christopher Street east to 9th Street, and then followed that to Broadway where I walked up to 12th Street and found Strand Bookstore.  I could have spent a week in that place, but I paced myself and left after…two hours.  I wandered up Broadway to Union Square Park and found an empty table behind a tent where a Motown Tribute group filled the air with the smooth, smokey sounds of their “Imagination [Running Away with Me].”

Around 3:00 pm, after having finished his day’s tasks, D. joined me at Union Square where we watched mandala artist,  Joe Mangrum, use his bags of colored sand to create an intricate and elaborate free-hand design on the pavement.  Since it can take more than six hours to create a design, donations are what keeps Joe afloat. So, I dug out the buck I’d won from D. the day before and tossed it in the can.

Central Park Pond - Photo by DMT

D.’s plan for the day was a trip to Central Park, so we hopped the subway and rode it up to somewhere around 57th Street.  With his wealth of knowledge about the history of New York landmarks and buildings, D. made an excellent tour guide [although, I think he was a little surprised by how fast I walked given that Detroit is the Motor City].  He even took a few pictures of the skyline from Central Park for me so that the shots would be sharp and focused.

After hanging out in the park for a few hours, D. had to move on to an evening dinner engagement, so we walked down 9th Avenue [through Hell’s Kitchen and past the Lincoln Center] and parted ways at 50th Street.

D. had recommended numerous resturants, but I didn’t find anything that appealed to me until I reached 36th Street, where I stopped and ate an amazing meal at a little Thai place called Aura.

Scallops with vegetables in a spicy jalapeno sauce - Photo by MAG

After dinner, I walked down 36th Street to 8th Avenue and caught the subway back to 14th Street where I successfully navigated my way back to the Jane – and my bed – where, exhausted by the many, many miles of walking I fell soundly asleep and dreamed of the city.

Waiting for Tonight

31 May

SoHo Fire Escape. Photo by DMT

New York City is just around the corner – only 11 days till lift off [and landing]!

As I sift through my incredibly long list of “Things I Want to Do” and work on outlining a tentative schedule for plans, I can feel my heart pounding and my pulse racing just thinking about what it will be like to finally be in New York City!

I imagine it will feel a bit like coming home.  How I can “come home” to a city that I’ve only once visited, I’m not sure, but that’s what it feels like right now.

I’ll arrive on Saturday afternoon, and make my way to my home base for the trip, The Jane.  Hopefully, D. will be able to meet me along the way, but if not, I’m sure I’ll do just fine following his detailed directions, and relying on the kindness of strangers, if need be.  Saturday afternoon is wide open to possibilities, so I’m not sure what I’ll be doing – it’s probably best to be flexible, since travel has a way of messing up even the best laid plans!

On Sunday morning, my plan is to rise early and enjoy a peaceful breakfast at The PATH Cafe in the West Village.  After breakfast, I plan to head over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the 10:00 am mass.  I may be a “recovering Catholic,” but I can’t wait to experience the history, architecture, and beautiful choral music at this iconic NYC landmark.  Sunday afternoon may entail a personal tour of the city, courtesy of my good friend, D, if his schedule works out. My backup plan is to visit Central Park and take the “Arts and Architecture Tour” of the park – the city has provides a map and an audio guide, which I have already downloaded!  Sunday evening, I might head over to Tom Soter’s Sunday Night Improv and catch the 8:00 pm show.

5th Avenue Store - photo by Apple

My Monday plans involve visiting the Apple Retail Stores on 5th Avenue and in SoHo!  I’m so excited to have a chance to take a look at these stores “up close and personal!” I’m a little disappointed that I’ll miss the June 8 discussion with filmmaker Ahmed Ahmed and the demonstration of the “Lucky Peach” app by famed Momofuku chef, David Chang.  I’m slowly but surely learning that you can’t do it all.

Tuesday is my Museum Day!  I plan to visit MoMA during the day, and attend the 33rd Annual Museum Mile Festival that evening.  As an added bonus, a few former students who have relocated from Michigan to Manhattan might join me that evening!

Wednesday is an open day – right now.  I might check out Brooklyn and then again, I might just follow my bliss and do whatever catches my fancy that day.  Who knows?

As far as food goes, J. has armed me with a list of possibilities that would keep me busy for at least three months, so I’m just going to remain flexible and see what I feel like trying depending on where I’m at in the city!

Now I only have to wait eleven more nights for the adventure to begin!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

New York State of Mind

19 May

Photo by DMT

I’m 23 days away from landing in New York City, and the excitement is building!

Unanticipated obstacles nearly derailed my trip a few weeks ago, but with the help of kind and generous people in my life, things are back on track and travel is immanent.

I’ve been a bit nervous about this trip because, believe it or not, while I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, I’ve never made a solo trip to a place that I’m unfamiliar with and not had someone who does know the location there to guide me. This isn’t a deal breaker, in fact, it’s rather exciting to plan an itinerary that is completely devoted to doing what I want to do!

There have been a few things that have felt a bit logistically overwhelming [probably because closely following directions has never been one of my strengths], but both J. and D. have stepped in and provided guidance and advice.

In addition to numerous other things, my foodie focused friend, J., has compiled lists of NYC eateries that she thinks I’ll enjoy, and she’s grouped them by general location so that in any given part of the city, I’ll have numerous places to choose from. She’s also made suggestions about which menu selections each place is famous for serving, so that I’ll get to sample the best each has to offer.  Now my only challenge will be making decisions according to what I’m in the mood to eat in any given part of the city!

That and making sure I walk enough to burn off the calories.

Navigating the city has been another of my concerns because, although I’m excited about being able to utilize the NYC public transportation system, I’ve been worried about learning the ins and outs quickly enough to keep myself from getting completely lost.  This is where my nearly-native-New-Yorker friend, D., has stepped in and alleviated many of my fears.

A few weeks ago, he provided me with very detailed instructions on how to get from La Guardia to my hotel via the express bus service to Port Authority.  In my usual fashion, I quickly read his directions, checked out the bus route, and asked “So, should I get off at Grand Central Station or Port Authority?”  In his usual patient manner, D. responded, “You want to be dropped off at Port Authority, which is why I said to take it to Port Authority.'” Later, after I expressed my concern about getting lost and winding up in Long Island,  he wrote and said that if the timing works out, he’ll meet me along the route that first day and help me find my hotel.

In the meantime, I’ll return to Google Earth and follow the route D. has constructed so I feel more confident about where I’m going.

I realize that doing a close and careful reading of D.’s directions would probably be the most logical solution to my problem.  I’ll do that, too.

The final challenge is going to be packing for this trip.  A few weeks ago, I received an email from Daily Candy that offered a detailed packing list for what sounded [to me] like a two-week excursion, and I was duly impressed with what they suggested.  Later, when I re-read the article, I saw that this packing list had been compiled for a three day trip!

There is no way on earth that I am going to double the amount of clothing suggested in order to be “well prepared” for five days in NYC.  First, I refuse to travel with more than one wheeled suitcase because that’s all I can manage on my own on public transportation. Second, this is supposed to be a vacation, not trunk show of a fashion designer’s collection.

Fortunately, most of my wardrobe is black and/or grey, so I feel confident that I’ll be able to choose a few mix and match pieces that will take me from daytime trips to NYC nightlife.

My only real concern is the shoe issue, but then I guess the first step toward solving a problem is to admit that there is one.  However, unlike my last trip to New York, I am not traveling with any shoes in which I can’t walk from one end of the city to the other without getting blisters.

Well, maybe one pair.

Isn’t that why they invented taxi cabs?

Right now, I feel like I’m standing on the precipice of a whole new world.  In less than one month – four and a half years after my first visit, and ten months after beginning to actively dream and write about being back in New York City – I’m going to be returning to the city I’ve loved so deeply, for so long.

Openly dreaming about this trip was scary, at first, but even when I was most afraid, I’ve kept the wise words of Mark Twain in mind [thanks to D., who has reminded me of them when I’ve forgetten].  Twain wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

In 23 days, I’ll do just that.

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Rhinestone Cowboy

21 Apr

Photo by DMT

51 days and counting!

I can’t believe that I’ll be in New York City in less than two months! I can’t wait to learn “every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway,” though I think that Google earth has given me a pretty good preview of them.

I’ve been “walking” the city streets and mapping out all of the places I’d like to visit during my stay, and I’ve been forced to acknowledge the fact that what I’d like to do and what I can actually do in five days are two radically different things.  My list of “things I’d like to do” would require me to sublet an apartment for a few months – and pick the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket.

The good thing about continuing to dream and plan is that it means the possibilities are actually endless!

So far, my list includes visiting MoMA to see the Boris Mikhailov photography exhibit “Case History”, the Museum of New York City to see “Movable Feast: Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Cart System”, the Whitney Museum of American Art to see Cory Archangel’s exhibit “Pro Tools”, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to see Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral just because I’d like to hear the choir sing in such a beautiful environment.

My dining plans currently include a visit to 4Food for one of their “burgers with a hole,” Momofuku Noodle Bar  whose offerings change on a daily basis [today’s lunch prix fixe menu includes oyster buns, prawn ramen and coconut tangerine cake truffles!], Katz’s Deli for a good old pastrami sandwich, Pommes Frites [because who wouldn’t like to eat authentic Belgian french fries for a late night snack?], Penelope for an egg sandwich or pumpkin waffles [and because their website is so darn cute!], and…about a hundred other places!

I’m dreaming of all the things I’ll do “with a subway token and a dollar tucked in my shoe,” however, this “Rhinestone Cowgirl” should probably tuck her cash [substantially more than one dollar] somewhere other than inside her platform sandals.

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

21 Mar

East Village. Photo by DMT

82 days and counting!

Last week I booked my flight to New York City, and wrote about conquering fears through researching my options.  This week I think it a good idea to share the resources I used [and will be using] to make my decisions.

A couple of months ago, while surfing the web at work and becoming quite frustrated, a travel-savvy co-worker literally leaned over my computer and pointed my web browser to the Kayak site. Kayak is a site that consolidates information from hundreds of other travel sites, and allows users to find flights, hotel rooms, cars and the best deals on all things travel-related. That small act of kindness led me to download the Kayak app for my iPhone and allowed me to search for flights at my convenience, bookmark the options I found, and program settings to notify me when ticket prices changed.  As a result, I was able to find the exact flight times and dates I needed, and paid less than $300.00 for my ticket.

During our 2007 trip, J. and I stayed at the cozy SoHotel, and enjoyed everything about it. Well, almost everything. J. does not enjoy sharing a room with me because apparently I snore – rather loudly.  We promised that the next time we traveled together, we’d find a hotel where we could book separate rooms at a reasonable rate.  Reasonable rates for separate rooms in New York City?  Right.

Never doubt the [research] power or perseverance of a woman who requires a good night’s sleep.

J. found the perfect place at The Jane.  Located at 113 Jane Street in the West Village, the hotel was designed by William A. Boring [most well-known for the Ellis Island immigrant station] and originally built as a hotel for sailors. As a result, The Jane offers rooms with a single twin bed – much like a ship’s cabin – and shared bathrooms on each floor.  The rooms are surprisingly well outfitted for such a small space, and offer flat screen televisions, iPod docking stations, and Wifi access – all for the reasonable price of $99.00 a night [plus a 14.75% city/state tax and a $3.50 hotel occupancy fee – quite a switch from the hotel’s original fee of “.25 per night for sailors, and .50 per night for all others.” I wish].

The hotel was renovated in 2008, and is absolutely beautiful – both inside and out! If you want to learn more, read Christopher Gray’s wonderful article in the NY Times, entitled “Popeye Slept Here, and Now Olive Oyl Can, Too!”, about The Jane’s history.

One thing that has made me simultaneously excited and nervous about traveling to New York is the public transportation system [and not just because I hold out hope that Rod Stewart will, in fact, be there singing to me. C’mon, this blog is all about dreaming big!!].  I loved the bus and subway system during the last trip, but that was because I was with an experienced traveler who knew how to efficiently navigate the system.  This time, I’m on my own, and although I have an incredibly good sense of direction [late night holiday season excursions in downtown Detroit notwithstanding], I tend to get flustered when I feel like I don’t know where I’m going or how to get there.

One would think that the teacher in me would be able to negate this fear.  After all, how many times have students heard me say, “The only stupid question is one that is not asked”?

Right.

The truth is that I get nervous because I’m afraid of looking out of place.  That make me nervous because I’m worried that what they say about New York will be true – visitors are easily targeted because they don’t look like they know where they’re going.  I don’t want to become a statistic, but then who does?

My biggest fear was how to get from La Guardia Airport to the hotel because I knew I’d have to take both a bus and the subway, but I had no idea how to determine that itinerary.  I got fairly worked up about the problem, until I realized I had a big gun [of information] at my disposal  – a native New Yorker.

I immediately wrote D. who gave me several options – the bus/subway combo, which would take an hour or so, at a cost of $2.50 or the cab option, which would cut travel to 30 minutes or less, but cost me $30-40.00.  D. kindly advised me that the bus option would be “a pain in the ass if you have big luggage,” to which I replied, “I travel pretty light -one bag [on wheels] and one purse – now, the number of pairs of heels in the bag…”

I also located David Pogue’s succinct NY Times review of the most helpful navigation apps for New York City.  I downloaded HopStop, an app that gives travelers both walking and transit directions to and from any location in NYC, and found it useful as I started planning my time in the city. I have also been using my iPhone map app to get acclimated to where things are, and that makes me feel a little more secure.

What I can actually do while in New York is yet another concern because while I want to have a great time, I do not have the budget [this time!] to live large in the Big Apple.  Though, I must admit, that there is something incredibly fun and challenging about figuring out how I can have the best experience for the least amount of money.  I think this is a throw back to the fact that I derive the greatest satisfaction from that which meets my needs at the lowest cost – those who know me will recognize this as the “cost-per-use-benefit analysis” that I use for buying shoes.

As I plan my meals in New York, I’ve found Urbanspoon New York to be incredibly useful.  This app allows users to search by location, type of food and price, and provides links to reviews, both by restaurant critics and the average customer.  The mobile app has a feature that I’ve grown to love as I’ve used it – you can lock one of the three categories [I lock price in the $ zone] and then “spin” the wheel to get a location and type of cuisine!  I’ve started compiling a list of places that sound deliciously interesting!

Finally, for anyone planning any kind of trip, Slide Share posted the “Fifty Mobile Travel Apps You Should Know.” I’ve found many of them interesting for my urban trip, but there are lots of apps aimed at helping those who are driving to their destinations, as well.  It’s a great presentation with a lot of useful information!

I’m excited about the planning because it will provide me with so many options that once I’m actually in New York City I won’t waste a moment being nervous or worried about what to do or where to go.

This girl is going to have fun!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Brooklyn

2 Dec

Brooklyn Heights from Lower Manhattan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

All signs point to Brooklyn.

I’ve been researching where I want to live when I move to New York, and while I’ve tried to envision myself in many of the different neighborhoods, I seem to be getting a signal from the universe that Brooklyn is where I belong.

The first sign was the Battle of Brooklyn. Fought in 1776 after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was the longest and largest battle of the entire American Revolutionary War.  Brooklyn is stubborn, resistant and has a history of doing things its own way – I can relate.

The idea that I should live in Brooklyn started to germinate about a year and a half ago, when I begged D. to take pictures of “all those Brooklyn girls” mentioned in Rod Stewart’s song “Downtown Train.”  D. promised he’d try, but I think he’s been wary about invading other people’s privacy – even on a subway platform – either that or Brooklyn girls scare him [Don’t judge! I’ve heard those girls are kind of tough].  In any case, my imagination ran wild and “Brooklyn girls” became the mythical representation of all that is mysteriously exciting about New York City.  I want to be one.  I think.

The second sign occurred during a shopping trip with J. We visited Sephora in search of the perfect shade of pink-but-not-too-pink lipstick.  After an hour of trying on every brand and shade we could locate [and assuring the nice sales people who work that, yes, we we were finding everything okay] we finally found the perfect shade – Buxom’s “Brooklyn” [which we now both own!].

A few weeks later, J. sent me an email in which she had attached a link to a line of address change cards from Lucky Duck Letter Press.  The cards are called “Brooklyn Brownstone” and they’re perfect!

Last month, Daily Candy offered up creations from the Butter Queen of Brooklyn! Four flavors of homemade butter named after former US First Ladies: Martha Washington: Roasted Garlic, Chives, and Tarragon; Eleanor Roosevelt: Pecan Praline; Jackie O.: Bing Cherry, Bourbon Vanilla, and Pink Sea Salt; Lady Bird: Hibiscus Lime.  Yummy!

Photo by Butter Queen of Brooklyn.

I’ve also been digging through the real estate ads again.  I’ve fallen in love with curved nooks, large windows and the personality of each Brooklyn brownstone, but I’ve also realized that falling in love is probably going to cost me upwards of $2000.00 a month. This is probably the minimum I’ll need to rent an apartment that is in a safe neighborhood and has enough space to allow me to maintain a bedroom rather than mount a sleeping bunk over the stove in the kitchen.  I’m either going to need a bigger savings account or a better paying job – or both.

There is something very appealing about being able to live in a part of the city that feels like a community.  Brooklyn is the largest of the five bouroughs in New York with a population of more than 2.5 million.  Its residents are incredibly diverse in race, class, gender, sexuality, and country of origin making it an intersection of interesting experiences!  Brooklyn offers a lively residential experience, proximity to the city, and a chance to escape the urban jungle for a little greenery and the hope of being able to afford an apartment that is bigger than the size of the average high school gym locker.

Photo by the New York Observer

The ethnic makeup of Brooklyn lends itself to a wide variety of restaurants and shops – Italian in Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge; West Indian in Crown Heights and Flatbush; Polish in Greenpoint; and Chinese in Sunset Park.  The city has also provided the backdrop for books such as William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brown Stones [three books I have loved!], and for the 1970s cult classic, Saturday Night Fever.  C’mon, who wouldn’t want to live in the city where John Travolta strutted down the street in white polyester bell bottoms as the Bee Gees blared from a boom box?

The sign that made me finally admit that Brooklyn is where I belong, appeared last weekend when a woman came into the store where I work and asked for a small  part.  While we were waiting to see if it was available, we got to talking about what she did for a living.  She told me that she was a grad student at NYU, and when I asked where she lived in the city her answer was – yep – Brooklyn.

Brooklyn seems like the right choice for me.  It’s close enough for me to be able to work and play in Manhattan, but far enough away to give the hope of being affordable and to provide a respite from the hustle and bustle.  The architecture is beautiful, and so far, the apartments I’ve perused on the New York Times Real Estate section seem cozy, but full of light.

I think I could feel very much at home in the city where all those Brooklyn girls live!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Saturday in the Park

6 Sep

 

 

Downtown Chicago. Photo by MAG

 

If I can’t be in New York City, then Chicago is the next best place to be.

This past weekend I traveled to Chicago to visit J. and to get a little taste of a big city. As I’ve said before, J. is a serious foodie, so I know that when I visit her I can count on taking a break from my usual fare — protein drinks and frozen dinners — the food itinerary this Labor Day weekend was amazing, as usual!

On Saturday, we started the day with an amazing baked squash and onion tart that J. had made the day before, and then headed out to power-walk through an outdoor mall. J. and I don’t mess around when we shop because neither of us has the patience for browsing. We stop in stores that interest us, do a quick sweep of the entire place, and can be out in under 10 minutes – unless one of finds something to try on, then we’re out in 15.

After our trip to the mall, we headed to the Edgewater area and picked up lunch from Gaztro-Wagon. Owned by Matt Maroni [yes, he’s heard all of the requisite jokes], this little restaurant offers the most amazing naan-wiches. I had the Braised lamb with queso Panela, apricots, walnuts and padron peppers, and J. tried the Fingerling Potato with fennel, mushroom puree, and goat cheese. We also tried an order of the plantain chips and split a real Oatmeal Cream Pie [these are not at all like Little Debbie makes them!].

 

Otom dining area. Photo by MAG

 

Many hours later, we dressed up and headed out to Otom, Joseph DeVito’s restaurant down in the Chicago meatpacking district. Otom is a quiet spot that focuses on New American cuisine with a Southern flair, and its interior might just make even the most hardcore graphic designer smile as it combines Paul Smith’s iconic stripes with exposed brick and sleek modern furniture.

What really shines at Otom are both the food and the impeccable service. The staff was friendly, attentive and incredibly knowledgeable about the food, and it seemed as if DeVito had addressed all of the biggest pet peeves that diners have! The courses were served efficiently without being rushed, and when the server boxed up our leftovers she didn’t bring them back to the table. Instead, the bag was kept in a side area until we paid our check. This solved the problem of having leftovers sitting on the table during coffee – or under the table and being forgotten.

We started the meal with green tea smoked octopus served with grilled cherry tomatoes, fennel, and pie pan squash. For the main course, I ordered the Chef’s Fish Special, which was a combination of mussels, crayfish, and marlin on a bed of wilted spinach and fingerling potatoes, and J. had the Duck Breast with somen noodles, miso dashi, baby bok choy, green onion and duck egg. And we had to split an order of the “Mac & Cheese” made with trofie, sweet corn, white cheddar and accompanied by a corn fritter that could actually have been called dessert. We agreed that next time we’re going to hijack the server and demand a plate of the fritters to start.

 

Photo by MAG

 

Otom is pricey, but we had a Groupon that deducted $60.00 off of our meal, so the entire dinner ended up costing $50.00 with tip.

On Sunday, we put on our walking shoes and took the El from Lincoln Park to North Avenue and had lunch at Epic Burger. The burgers here are outstanding – fresh, perfectly cooked and on the best buns ever! The menu is limited, and as a result, they do burgers right!

After lunch, we walked from North Avenue down to Michigan Avenue, and strolled the Magnificent Mile in search of Garrett’s Popcorn. Garrett’s is an iconic Chicago snack shop which specializes in – you guessed it – popcorn. Year round, the line in front of Garrett’s Michigan Avenue store stretches down the block, and Labor Day weekend was no exception. We waited patiently in line with fifty other folks, only to find out that they were out of cheese popcorn just as we reached the front of the line. Since I was bringing it back for a Garrett’s junkie in Michigan, I made an executive decision and settled for a large bag of caramel corn.

 

Nine West. Photo by MAG

 

We also had to do the obligatory stop at what those who know me would call “The Mothership” – Nine West – to browse the shoe sales and see what they were carrying for fall. I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t justify the cost/use value [the cost of the shoes divided by the number of times they will be worn], but just being in the store was enough — this time.

In the Michigan Avenue Gap store, I passed another milestone in my preparation for New York City. I bought a skirt – size large. For many folks [who are not women fighting with their weight], this will have no significance whatsoever, but for me it was a glorious moment as I stood in the dressing room modeling the first skirt I’d put on in fifteen years that wasn’t marked “1, 2 or 3X.” You’d better believe I bought it! I did not push my luck and try on pants, though. I’ll save that for the next trip.

 

Gap skirt. Photo by MAG

 

By the time we caught the El back to Lincoln Park, we’d been walking [and/or waiting in line] for about five hours, and were hungry – again! We made a quick stop at Nhu Lan Bakery on Lawrence Street, and picked up the best banh mi sandwiches in the city. If you go there, I highly recommend the #11. It’s a mixture of tofu that has the texture of cooked meat, sweet and sour pickled slaw and hot peppers on a freshly baked baguette. It’s a delicious and inexpensive meal, and tastes wonderful with a nice cold Brooklyn Lager.

We capped off the meal with a slice of J.’s freshly made Pistachio Cake with Fig Jam and Cream Cheese Frosting as we watched Inspector Lewis and Detective Hathaway solve yet another murder mystery.

I might still be a year away from my New York City experience, but in the meantime, Chicago will stand in quite nicely.

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